The Art of the Oceans
I remember the moment I realised what I would do with the rest of my life. I was a seasick two year old, struggling with a rough crossing on the Picton Ferry, when my mum took me outside to get some air. Leaping through the waves were some dolphins. I was hooked.
By the age of four, I had made a list of career options; study whales and dolphins, be a cartoonist, a magician and a chef.
Growing up in Eastbourne in the 1970s, I was surrounded by the sea. We had an aquarium and my brother and I would go and catch things in the rock pools. One day we brought back a stargazer fish. It proceeded to eat everything in the tank and I can still picture those great big eyes, peering up through the mud, while its belly just grew bigger and bigger! That fish spelled the end for our aquarium, but I will never forget the sight of it swimming away when we released it back into the sea.
An avid watcher of Jacques Cousteau and the adventures of his boat the Calypso, I was inspired to illustrate and write marine adventure stories with my brother. I volunteered to help a family friend haul in his fishing nets and pictured myself in a red beanie, leading an expedition at the front of the boat.
I studied marine biology at university but the turning point for me was when I volunteered to work at the national museum, now the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa . I was overwhelmed by the wonder of the whale skeletons. For such enormous animals, we still know almost nothing about them. We live on a vast ocean planet and we know so little.
With the development of new technology the way we envisage whales and their behaviour has been transformed. Just last year a digital tag, attached by suction cups, was used to record the deepest ever dive by a whale, all the way down to 2,992 metres – and yes, they hold their breath for 135 minutes!
What scares me is how little investment there is to research our marine environment. I am fearful that future generations may not even know of these animals. We need funding for meaningful research which can be used to influence decision makers to create decent legislation to protect our oceans.
My favourite Jacques Cousteau quote? Well, “the squids hold each other in a tender embrace” always makes me smile.
Anton van Helden has achieved most of his career goals. He is a marine advocate for Forest & Bird, a professional magician, cartoonist and ….well…. he loves to cook.
Anton has donated one of his dolphin designs for our new range of children’s t-shirts now available to buy through the Forest & Bird on-line shop.